STAFF costs do not stop at salaries. "When consulting, we often see farms performing badly as a direct consequence of staff who are inadequately trained, inadequately motivated or simply out of their depth," says Strutt & Parkers Will Gemmill.
"Labour is a critical component. If a farm is to perform well you must have well motivated people who are right for the job."
But finding competent staff is becoming increasingly difficult, says Mr Gemmill who highlights a shortage of experienced and qualified tractor drivers. "Graduates leaving college today are aspiring farm managers. They start out as tractor drivers and when they cant find a management position, they move out of the industry.
"With current machinery complexity we need more highly qualified people. The days of farm workers starting straight out of school with no training and no qualifications are well over."
Farmers considering recruitment should establish a clear job specification, advertise sensibly and carry out formal, structured interviews, he advises.
"If you are going to recruit yourself, do it properly. Be clear in your own mind what you are after and set out a coherent job description.
"Advertise in an appropriate journal. For a senior position, pay a little more and put it in the appointments section. Let people know you are out to find someone."
Carry out two formal, structured interviews, he suggests. Use the first to determine technical competence and the second to assess personality and whether the applicant will fit into the existing team.
"Get the best out of the interview by putting the candidate at ease, give them five minutes to talk about themselves and ask questions. Make them aware of what you want from them, but do not over- or under-sell the position.
"Be confident that the successful candidate can work within existing staff limitations including your own. In some cases it may be easier for a third party to identify whether a candidate will work well with the owner and stand up to him if need be."
Above all, do not employ someone unless you are completely comfortable, Mr Gemmill stresses. "If you are unsuccessful with advertising, do not simply employ the best person on the day. Use a recruitment or head-hunting service to source the ideal person. It may cost you money in the short term, but it could save a lot of headaches in the future."
Follow up references
Once a successful candidate is found, follow up references but be aware these may not always be a true reflection of the candidates ability, he suggests. Confirm qualifications, if necessary, and take advantage of a six-month probationary period, he adds.
"Set out clear employment terms that protect both employer and employee, so reducing the risk of future grievances, and keep remuneration as simple and fair as possible.
"Agricultural consultants, NFU and CLA all have details of employment law."
Perpetuate a good working relationship by continuing to invest time and money in staff. Make provision for training in the annual budget so staff can advance their careers, and maintain a good working communication by making them feel part of the team and part of the farm. "Make them aware of what you have planned and how they fit into those plans," he concludes. *
Just the right person for the job
Strutt & Parkers new staff recruitment service aims to help farmers find just the right person for the job, be it senior tractor driver, herdsperson or farm manager.
Complemented by a national database of over 200 qualified staff, the service determines job scope, then sources and carries out initial screening.
"We aim to recommend up to four suitable candidates for final selection by the client," say Mr Gemmill. Charges are related to time invested and salary, but structured according to success. Head hunting is done where necessary, and to date the service has a 100% success rate, he says.
"Getting the right person first time can mean longer term employment, harder working staff and generally, an all round better ethos."
Employing a recruitment service may cost more in the short term, but because it is people that make money, longer term gain should result, he concludes.